Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)

With greater opportunity to study and work in science, technology, engineering, and math, girls and women have made great progress in these fields over the past 40 years. Nonetheless, more work is needed to achieve equality. Stereotypes about male and female abilities—none of which are supported by science—can affect access to opportunities for girls and women in STEM as well as student performance. Hiring and promotion policies in academia and elsewhere also hold women back.

Recent gains in girls’ mathematical achievement demonstrate the importance of cultural attitudes in the development of students’ abilities and interests. They also demonstrate the law’s impact on society. As learning environments have become more open since the passage of Title IX, girls’ achievement has soared. For example, the proportion of seventh- and eighth-grade girls who scored in the top 0.01% of students on the math SAT rose from 1 in 13 in the early 1980s to 1 in 3 by 2010. At the college and postgraduate levels, women have made huge gains in some STEM fields but only modest progress in others. Women now earn more than half of all bachelor’s degrees in biological and social sciences. In math, physics, engineering, and computer science, however, the proportion of women earning bachelor’s degress has remained stagnant or even declined over the past decade.

Women’s share of PhDs across all STEM fields has risen dramatically, from just 11% in 1972 to 40% by 2006; the numbers vary widely by field, though, with women earning over half the PhDs in the life sciences but just over 20% in computer science and engineering. Continuing female attrition in STEM programs at all levels comes at a devastating cost to U.S. businesses and research institutions, which need access to the brightest minds in STEM.